Monday, January 19, 2009

On Mishna Brura and arguments

(photograph of Roman Vishniac)

The hot question of whether Mishna Brura is a halachic work (and if it is, what this means) has been discussed here.

One side holds that it’s not a work of halacha, because the author did not follow the process of shimush (one prospective rav learning by example and tradition from an already accomplished rav) and did not pasken according to klaley hoyro’oh (rules necessary to figure out which authority’s opinion to follow in each situation — which are transmitted from one rav to another in a form of oral tradition). Instead, Baal Chofetz Chayim merely tries to figure out by himself who is right in a machloikes and provides chiddushim in halacha.

The other side holds that Mishna Brura is a work of halacha, since many authorities relied on it for discussions of halachic questions.

My rabbi holds that it is funny how you can have two people arguing and not realizing that they are not hearing each other — each one talking about a completely different aspect of the argument.


shmulie said...

I saw your comment about your friend in YU.

I see your apocryphal quote, and raise the impudence a notch.

I had a teacher who learned in Brisk. (The most elitist one, I forget if it's R' Meir or R' Dovid.) He says that in Brisk they used to mock the Mishna Brura as a "Shulchan Aruch for yesoimim" (orphans, i.e. people who had no tradition in the psak).

Maybe the great scion of Brisk (although they kind of disown him), the Rav in YU, felt the same way.

I didn't read through all the comments there, but as far as I can tell, that first big comment comparing the regard for the Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch with that of the Mishna Brura is simply incorrect.

In terms of halachic innovation, there is far greater distance bridged between the "big" shulchan aruch to the Alter Rebbe's, than from his to the Mishna brura. In addition, the Alter Rebbe's covered all sections, while the Mishna Brura covers only the first. One could go on and on...

I notice you don't respond to my long comments. Unfortunately, I never had a professor or editor to reign in my excesses.

Crawling Axe said...

I think one of the people who commented would answer to the Brisk’s argument that precisely because MB is simpler, it’s more accessible — so, fine, don’t say it’s according to your level, but don’t throw it out as a non-halachic work.

In general, when emotions get involved, it’s difficult for intellect to prevail. When somebody starts a sentence with “How can you say…!”, you know you’re not likely to see an objective argument.

I think my rabbi’s explanation makes sense. On the one hand, MB is takeh not a book of psak din. On the other, it is useful for those trying to understand halacha because it discusses halachic questions.

I read all comments, just don’t always have time and energy to answer. Also, I like my answers to be complete and make sense and if they don’t I tend to procrastinate with them (as in the case of the post about Rambam, for instance).